My travels to Egypt have never been glamorous. My first few visits were as an archaeology student and later, on my self-designed great museums of the world adventure, I tended to travel as the locals do, staying in some questionable hotels and eating from street vendors. No bad experiences, though. Instead of five-star cruises along the Nile, I did the five million stars version sleeping on the deck of a traditional felucca, and one of the best Egyptian meals I ever ate cost me less than $1 -- and that was including a tip. Not that I would ever swap these experiences, but there are many more comfortable and luxurious ways to vacation in Egypt.
To many travelers, Egypt represents the nirvana of international exploration, a chance to see sights that they have only ever dreamed of and visit a cradle of civilization. We tend to romanticize Egypt and for good reason: It still symbolizes the golden age of 19th and early 20th century travel, full of intrigue and mystery, fabled curses and the promise of treasures yet to be discovered. In general it can be an expensive destination, but you can certainly find affordable options. People often ask me about the safety of the country and although I may not be suitably qualified to comment, I find Egypt to be a warm, hospitable and safe environment -- a must see destination without comparison.
The Egyptian Tourism Authority has just launched a new worldwide television and print advertising campaign titled "The Gift of the Sun" to entice even more visitors to journey to Misr (the Arabic name for Egypt). The ambition is to double visitor numbers from eight million in 2004 to 16 million in 2014. In 2005, Egypt was already on its way with a record high 8.6 million visitors, and the first six months of 2006 show a 12% increase on last year.
Global Gate Vacations (tel. 800/814-4283; www.globalgatevacations.com) has an eight-day "Affordable Egypt King Ramses I" package priced from $655 land-only or $1,545 air/land. The tour includes round-trip airfare from New York, airport transfers, domestic flights (round-trip Cairo to Luxor), six nights' accommodations (three at the five-star Movenpick Pyramids Hotel in Cairo and three aboard the deluxe Beau Soleil Nile Cruise) breakfast daily, four lunches, three dinners, transportation by private motorcoach or car depending on group size, a tour director and sightseeing. Highlights are the Pyramids of Giza, the Temple of Isis at Philae, Kom Ombo, Edfu, Temple of Horus, the Necropolis of Thebes, the Colossi of Memnon, the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, Valley of the Queens, Valley of the Kings and the Temple at Karnak. Prices for dates are as follows:
- December 13, 2006: $1,545 ($655 land-only)
- December 20 to 27, 2006: $1,975 ($995 land-only)
- January 3 to February 28, 2007: $1,755 ($875 land-only)
- February 20 to March 31, 2007: $1,775 ($895 land-only)
- April 1 to June 30, 2007: $1,975 ($995 land-only)
Sunny Land Tours (tel. 800/783-7839; www.egypthotdeals.com) offers three levels of discounted Egypt package deals: Silver, Gold and Platinum. The Silver package is priced from $999 per person based on double occupancy. This seven-day Cairo supersaver departs daily from New York and is ideal for independent-minded travelers who would like to discover Cairo and its surrounds without a formal tour. The package includes round-trip airfare on Egypt Air from New York, five nights' accommodations at the centrally located four-star Oasis Hotel, airport transfers, daily buffet breakfast, local taxes, hotel service charges and a half-day city tour including the Egyptian Museum. You can choose to expand the package by adding optional excursions in Cairo, and even an optional extension to Luxor, and/or Aswan. The $999 price is valid for travel from December 1 to 11, 2006 ($399 land-only). From January 4 to 31, 2007, the price is $1,149 ($429 land-only), November 1 to 30, 2006 and February 1 to March 31, 2007 is $1,299 ($449 land-only) and peak holiday season departures between December 12, 2006 and January 3, 2007 go up to $1,899 ($599 land-only). A weekend departure surcharge of $30 applies and $275 for single occupancy. Taxes are additional.
The nine-day "Red Sea All Inclusive Gold Package" is priced from $1,599. The tour features round-trip airfare on Egypt Air from New York, intra-Egypt flights, all airport transfers, seven nights' accommodations at an all-inclusive resort in your choice of Red Sea resort towns of Hurghada (at the Panorama El Gouna resort) or Sharm El Sheikh (at The Rehana Prima Life Resort), all meals and select drinks at the resort, activities, local taxes and hotel service charges. Hurghada was once a simple fishing village, but its crystal clear water, untouched reefs and a multitude of ship wrecks have made it one of Egypt's top tourist destinations, demonstrated clearly by the 12-mile long strip of beachfront hotels. Sharm el-Sheikh, once part of neighboring Israel, is a diving, snorkeling and windsurfing mecca. It is also a great base for Sinai desert safaris and day trips to historic sites. Prices for this package are as follows:
- December 1 to 11, 2006: $1,599 ($999 land-only)
- January 4 to 31, 2007: $1,699 ($1,049 land-only)
- November 1 to 30, 2006 and February 1 to March 31, 2007: $1,799 ($1,099 land-only)
- December 12, 2006 and January 3, 2007: $2,399 ($1,299 land-only)
The Platinum Package is priced from $1,999 per person for a ten-day "Egypt Deluxe Nile Cruise and Tour." The tour departs on Fridays from New York and includes round-trip airfare to Paris and from Paris to Cairo, domestic flights in Egypt, all transfers, 18 meals (eight breakfasts, five lunches and five dinners) a four-day deluxe Nile Cruise aboard the MS Carnival from Aswan to Luxor, four-nights deluxe accommodation at the Intercontinental Pyramids Park Hotel in Cairo, one-night accommodation in Aswan, an excursion to Abu Simbel and two full days of excursions in Cairo including lunch (visiting The Egyptian Museum, the Old City, Pyramids, Sphinx, Memphis and Sakkara). Participants have the option to extend their trip with a stay in Paris after Egypt. Platinum Package prices:
- December 1 to 11, 2006: $1,999 ($1499 land-only)
- January 4 to 31, 2007: $2,199 ($1549 land-only)
- November 1 to 30, 2006 and February 1 to March 31, 2007: $2,299 ($1,599 land-only)
- December 12, 2006 and January 3, 2007: $2,999 ($1,799 land-only)
The Egyptian Connection (tel. 800/334-4477; www.egyptontheweb.com) has a signature "Egypt Expedition" tour priced at $1870 and for two special departure dates, the tour will include an introduction to Egyptian history presented by Dr. Zahy Hawass, head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities and the utmost authority of Egyptian antiquity. (November 17, 2006 and February 16, 2007). The trip includes round-trip airfare from New York to Cairo, all transfers, three nights in Cairo at the five-star Le Meridien Pyramids Hotel including buffet breakfast daily, a full day sightseeing in Cairo including the Egyptian Museum, Citadel, Pyramids and Bazaar, domestic airfare from Cairo to Aswan and from Luxor to Cairo, three nights aboard a five-star Deluxe Nile cruise including three meals daily, sightseeing in Aswan, Kom Ombo and Luxor and a cocktail reception. Visa fees of $20 for U.S. passport holders and airport taxes/fuel surcharge of $210 are additional.
Gate1 Travel (tel. 800/682-3333; www.gate1travel.com) has a selection of independent and group trips to Egypt. Their ten-day "Discovery of Egypt" tour visits Cairo, Aswan, Edfu and Luxor and is priced from $1,899 per person based on double occupancy. The trip includes round-trip airfare from New York, airline fuel surcharges of up to $180, domestic flights, eight nights' accommodations (three in Cairo at the Novotel and the Ramses Hilton, one in Luxor at the Sofitel Winter palace and four on the King of Thebes Nile cruise), all transfers, 17 meals (eight breakfasts, five lunches and four dinners), sightseeing per itinerary, services of an English-speaking Egyptologist escort, all shore excursions and museum entrance fees. Highlights include the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, the Colossi of Memnon, the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, the Temple at Karnak, the Pyramids, a felucca boat ride and the Khan El Khalili Bazaar. January 14 and March 4, 2007 departure dates are priced at $1,899, November 19, 2006 and February 18, March 18, May 6 and 27 and September 2 and 16, 2007 is priced from $2,079 with other departure dates ranging from $2,289 to $2,769, depending on season.
Foreign Independent Tours (tel. 800/248-3487; www.foreign-independent-tours.com) has an extensive 16-day Egypt and Kenya tour. Although you fly into Cairo, the trip starts the next day with a quick flight to Nairobi and a week of explorations to Shaba National Reserve, Lake Nakuru and Masai Maru. Upon return to Cairo, there are tours throughout the Cairo area and a three-day cruise along the Nile River. The package includes all international and domestic air, transfers, park fees, the cruise, fuel surcharges, lodging in four- and five-star hotels, guides and most meals. For double occupancy, the package starts at $3,399 from Dulles, Virgina and Newark, New Jersey; with add-on fares from Boston ($50), Atlanta and Chicago ($170) and Los Angeles and San Francisco ($250). From now through March there are at least four departures each month. Pricing through November 2007 will be released soon.
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